The first weekend of the 2013 NBA playoffs has arrived. By Monday morning, all eight first-round series will be one game old. You need four wins to take a series, so while Game 1 is important, taking an L this weekend isn't necessarily doom. But there are some things to watch that may foretell how these series will go.
Here are five.
How will officials deal with Avery Bradley?
Let's be honest: officials could whistle Avery Bradley for hand checks on almost every defensive possession. He gets into opponents consistently like no other player in the league right now. The Knicks are extremely sure-handed -- a massive difference over the Jeremy Lin-led squad last year. New York led the league in turnover rate this season. Boston was No. 9 in turnover creation, but Bradley's tight defense did more than generate steals. It throws an offense off-balance, kills its timing and kills shot clock.
And, again, it can lead to fouls when the opponent is not a scoring threat. Boston just doesn't have the depth to see Bradley sit with foul trouble, and isn't good enough to concede the bonus to New York frequently. But the Celtics desperately need Bradley to do his thing to have a shot against a better, deeper club. So it comes down to what the officials are comfortable calling and comfortable letting go. Expect Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd to sell contact early to set a tone.
Without Kobe Bryant and with a gimpy Steve Nash, are the Lakers spirited enough to beat the Spurs?
Taking Game 1 in San Antonio would be monumental for the Lakers, because in many ways this Lakers team -- especially with Kobe on the shelf -- is a creature of confidence. A lot of that has to do with Dwight Howard, who has over the past two seasons seemed much more effective when things are working teamwide than not. That isn't the case for most superstars, who write their own destinies. Howard's effort seems to pick up when momentum is on the side of his team.
As such, competing with spirit is probably a good enough indicator as to whether the Lakers stand any chance at all here. That might mean Metta World Peace cutting free for some clean jumpers, or it might mean a surgical Pau Gasol directing traffic from the high post. It could mean Steve Nash keeping Tony Parker on his heels or Jodie Meeks shooting the lights up. Or we could be surprised: the uprising could be led by Dwight Howard himself. Maybe Coach Vino has gotten to him. Maybe the lore of Lakerdom has finally sunk in. Maybe lining up against Tim Duncan will inspire Dwight to carry L.A. on his surgically repaired back to stunning victory. We'll get a hint in Game 1.
Can the Grizzlies score on the Clippers?
We know the real battle in the West's 4-5 matchup is the Clippers' excellent offense against the Grizzlies' great defense. Chris Paul trying to fool Marc Gasol. Blake Griffin launching himself over Zach Randolph. Everyone wearing L.A.'s color desperately avoiding meeting Tony Allen's gaze, Tayshaun Prince's reach and Mike Conley's pilfering hands. But if those forces fight to a standstill, this series will be decided by whether Memphis' mediocre offense can score on what has become a pretty good L.A. defense.
The Grizzlies ended the season No. 17 in offense, while the Clippers are No. 8 in defense. Z-Bo's scoring has fallen off of a cliff since he turned 30. He had a rough 2011-12 marred by injury ... and he didn't recover well this season, with his per-minute scoring down about 20 percent. His scoring efficiency is down below Knicks era levels. He's no longer an automatic 20 points -- heck, he only scored 20 or more in 13 of 76 games this season. He only had 10 20-10 games this season; he had 36 of those in 2010-11, before the knee injury and before he turned 30.
Lower output from Z-Bo puts a lot of pressure on Conley, Gasol and Jerryd Bayless to score. Bayless is going to be matched up with Eric Bledsoe (guh), and Conley will be spending a ridiculous amount of energy staying with CP3. Game 1 of this series on Saturday will give Memphis an opportunity to show that it has ways to break down L.A.'s defense ... or not.
Can George Karl's spare cogs keep the machine running smoothly?
So much has been made of Denver's egalitarian, seamless system on both ends of the floor. In many ways, the redundancy of parts is a hedge against injury -- Danilo Gallinari is down, but the machine hasn't fallen apart. But now Kenneth Faried will apparently miss Saturday's game, which puts the JaVale McGee-Kosta Koufos platoon into a stretch and forces Karl to compensate elsewhere. Evan Fournier is going to start Game 1; it'll be the fifth start of his NBA career. And with Ty Lawson fighting off injury, the dynamic point guard platoon isn't at full capacity.
Against an excitable Warriors team, this is going to be a real test of the Nuggets' philosophy in Game 1.
Denver is almost unstoppable at home, but without Faried the Nuggets have to worry about David Lee getting active on the glass, giving Golden State more chances and taking them away from Denver. Karl has to be concerned that Fournier is going to have the nerves to make the right play repeatedly, rotating properly, knowing when to pull the trigger and when to move the ball, getting back to stunt the Warriors' fast break. Denver is still deep despite the injuries. But depth is only part of the Nuggets' equation. That ability to move cogs in and out smoothly is a key that will be tested in Game 1. (Either way, Faried is expected back for Game 2.)
Can Indiana get an offense together?
The Pacers should be able to beat Atlanta. Indiana's defense is ridiculously good (best in the league) and while Atlanta is better than you'd assume, its offense is decidedly mediocre. But no one expects much of the Hawks -- they are a huge underdog even in the first round. The Pacers, however, are supposed to do things. With Roy Hibbert, they have the big man the Heat should fear. With that defense, they have a unit that can stop the Knicks' assault.
But the team's offense is abysmal. The Kings, Raptors, Blazers and Hornets all had better offenses than Indiana this season. The Hawks' defense is pretty good, but not as good as that of the Heat. If the Pacers can't score on Atlanta, they are probably not going to be able to score on Miami. And if you can't score on Miami, you are not going to threaten Miami, because no matter how good your defense is, Miami is going to score on it. So this series -- and Game 1 itself -- will show us whether Indiana's offense is going to make the Pacers a viable challenge over the next month or two.